Ex-exec: Worked to bribe sen­a­tor

In plea, he says provider gained

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - Front Page - LISA HAMMERSLY AND ERIC BESSON

An­other for­mer ex­ec­u­tive with Pre­ferred Fam­ily Health­care Inc., once Arkansas’ largest behavioral health care provider, has ad­mit­ted tak­ing part in a con­spir­acy to bribe for­mer state Sen. Jeremy Hutchin­son to se­cure leg­isla­tive fa­vors, ac­cord­ing to a plea agree­ment filed Wed­nes­day in U.S. Dis­trict Court in western Mis­souri.

Robin Raveen­dran, 63, of Lit­tle Rock pleaded guilty to one count of con­spir­ing with for­mer top Pre­ferred Fam­ily ex­ec­u­tives Mil­ton Russell “Rusty” Cran­ford and mar­ried cou­ple Tom and Bon­tiea Goss to pay Hutchin­son $35,625 be­tween 2014 and 2016, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

Pros­e­cu­tors said the money was from a health care lob­by­ing group cre­ated by Raveen­dran and other non­profit ex­ec­u­tives and was dis­guised as pay­ments for le­gal ser­vices to Hutchin­son, a lawyer.

In return, Hutchin­son — a nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchin­son — took ac­tions as a state sen­a­tor to

help pass or block laws and reg­u­la­tions to the ben­e­fit of the non­profit, ac­cord­ing to Raveen­dran’s guilty plea filed in Spring­field, Mo., fed­eral court.

U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge David Rush ac­cepted Raveen­dran’s plea Wed­nes­day morn­ing and re­leased him with­out bail pend­ing sen­tenc­ing.

Raveen­dran faces up to five years in fed­eral prison with­out pa­role, three years of su­per­vised re­lease and a fine of $250,000, as well as $25,000 in resti­tu­tion, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

“By en­ter­ing a guilty plea to­day, Mr. Raveen­dran be­gan the process of right­ing a wrong by ac­cept­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for his role in a broader con­spir­acy to bribe a state leg­is­la­tor,” his lawyers, Erin Cassinelli and Jor­dan Tins­ley, said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day.

“Af­ter decades of public ser­vice, in 2014 Mr. Raveen­dran en­tered the pri­vate sec­tor, where he was ex­posed to a cul­ture of greed and cor­rup­tion that was un­fa­mil­iar to him,” the state­ment said. “Ul­ti­mately, he participat­ed in a cor­rupt prac­tice that had sadly be­come com­mon­place for many peo­ple in po­si­tions of public and pri­vate trust.”

Hutchin­son has pleaded in­no­cent to re­lated fed­eral bribery and public-cor­rup­tion charges in the western Mis­souri dis­trict court in Spring­field. His co-de­fen­dants in that case are the Gosses, who also have pleaded in­no­cent. Their case isn’t set for trial un­til 2021.

One Raveen­dran email from March 4, 2015, to Hutchin­son in­structed him to file a mostly blank leg­isla­tive bill ahead of fil­ing dead­lines in case it was needed later in an amended form. The mes­sage said: “Hi Jeremy. We need to file a shell bill to take care of this is­sue,” ac­cord­ing to the plea agree­ment.

HUTCHIN­SON’S CASES

Raveen­dran’s guilty plea is an­other le­gal com­pli­ca­tion for Hutchin­son in Mis­souri.

Two for­mer Pre­ferred Fam­ily Health­care ex­ec­u­tives, Cran­ford and Mar­i­lyn Nolan, in ear­lier guilty pleas have de­scribed Pre­ferred Fam­ily’s ef­forts to pay bribes to Hutchin­son, of­ten iden­ti­fied as “Sen­a­tor A.”

The fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into for­mer of­fi­cials of Pre­ferred Fam­ily and Hutchin­son is part of a larger public-cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Ar

kansas and Mis­souri that has en­snared at least five for­mer Arkansas law­mak­ers, a for­mer pri­vate col­lege pres­i­dent, Cran­ford and a na­tional political con­sul­tant.

Hutchin­son is the only for­mer law­maker so far charged in fed­eral court in both states. While de­fend­ing the Mis­souri public cor­rup­tion charges, he has pleaded in­no­cent in U.S. Dis­trict Court in Lit­tle Rock on charges of mis­spending cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions and fil­ing false tax re­turns.

Hutchin­son and a for­mer girl­friend, Julie McGee, tes­ti­fied ear­lier this week in Lit­tle Rock about their volatile re­la­tion­ship and dis­puted own­er­ship of a lap­top com­puter that FBI agents used to com­pile ev­i­dence against Hutchin­son.

McGee also has al­leged Hutchin­son ac­cepted money from at­tor­ney John Good­son of Texarkana in return for leg­isla­tive fa­vors, FBI Agent James Cole­man tes­ti­fied. Good­son has not been charged with a crime and told the Arkansas Times blog that $690,000 paid to Hutchin­son was for the lawyer to in­tro­duce clients and the­o­ries of lit­i­ga­tion for Good­son’s class-ac­tion firm.

At­tor­neys for Hutchin­son asked in the hear­ing Mon­day and Tues­day that the fed­eral case in Lit­tle Rock be dis­missed, or that ev­i­dence from the dis­puted lap­top be sup­pressed. U.S. Dis­trict Judge Kris­tine Baker hadn’t ruled as of late Wed­nes­day.

RAVEEN­DRAN’S PLEA

Raveen­dran, once a state ad­min­is­tra­tor for Med­i­caid ser­vices, worked for the state Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices for al­most 30 years, from 1984 to 2013. When he left, he was chief pro­gram ad­min­is­tra­tor for the depart­ment’s Pro­gram In­tegrity Unit, which paid $73,579 per year, ac­cord­ing to an agency spokesman.

Ac­cord­ing to Raveen­dran’s guilty plea, soon af­ter leav­ing the agency, he be­gan work­ing with Cran­ford, Pre­ferred Fam­ily’s top Arkansas ex­ec­u­tive and state Capi­tol lob­by­ist, to form an as­so­ci­a­tion to lobby for health care in­ter­ests in the Arkansas Leg­is­la­ture.

Raveen­dran, with Cran­ford, set up a pri­vate as­so­ci­a­tion called Al­liance for Health Im­prove­ment, also known as Al­liance for Health Care and Al­liance for Health Care Im­prove­ment, to lobby at the Arkansas Capi­tol on is­sues im­por­tant to health care providers, ac­cord­ing to Raveen­dran’s guilty plea.

Be­gin­ning in 2014, Pre­ferred Fam­ily and a pre­de­ces­sor com­pany, Al­ter­na­tive Op­por­tu­ni­ties Inc., paid $25,000 an­nual dues to Al­liance for at least three years. Other providers paid $5,000 to $10,000, ac­cord­ing to the plea agree­ment.

Be­tween April 2014 and May 2016, Al­liance paid Hutchin­son and his law firm six times for a to­tal of $35,625, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

Hutchin­son, as a Repub­li­can state sen­a­tor from Lit­tle Rock, filed and voted for leg­is­la­tion to help the Mis­souri non­profit, “pres­sur­ing and ad­vis­ing other public of­fi­cials to per­form of­fi­cial ac­tion on be­half of the char­ity,” ac­cord­ing to Raveen­dran’s plea agree­ment.

Hutchin­son also tried to stop or de­lay leg­is­la­tion or rules changes that Pre­ferred Fam­ily op­posed, “hold­ing up agency bud­gets, ini­ti­at­ing leg­isla­tive au­dits,” the plea said.

Raveen­dran’s plea said Hutchin­son filed Se­nate Bill 932 in 2015 to amend Arkansas law con­cern­ing the def­i­ni­tion of “in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tor,” to fa­vor the Mis­souri non­profit. Hutchin­son also filed House Bill 1540 that year to help the com­pany, ac­cord­ing to the plea, and worked to block pro­posed reg­u­la­tions by the state Hu­man Ser­vices Depart­ment.

One Raveen­dran email from March 4, 2015, to Hutchin­son in­structed him to file a mostly blank leg­isla­tive bill ahead of fil­ing dead­lines in case it was needed later in an amended form. The mes­sage said: “Hi Jeremy. We need to file a shell bill to take care of this is­sue,” ac­cord­ing to the plea agree­ment.

“Let me know if you need additional in­for­ma­tion. Thanks.”

In ad­di­tion to the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the of­fice of Arkansas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Les­lie Rut­ledge has filed Med­i­caid fraud charges against Raveen­dran and others in cases in­volv­ing out­pa­tient men­tal health clin­ics.

Rut­ledge’s of­fice in June 2018 charged Raveen­dran with two felony counts of Med­i­caid fraud, ac­cus­ing him of co­or­di­nat­ing to im­prop­erly bill more than 20,000 Med­i­caid claims to­tal­ing nearly $2.3 mil­lion on be­half of Pre­ferred Fam­ily.

Raveen­dran has not en­tered a plea on the state charges. A pre­trial hear­ing is sched­uled for Oc­to­ber, and a jury trial is ten­ta­tively sched­uled for Novem­ber, ac­cord­ing to the cir­cuit clerk’s of­fice in In­de­pen­dence County, where the charges were filed.

“Raveen­dran’s plea [in fed­eral court] based on his egre­gious crim­i­nal con­duct un­der­scores our de­ci­sion to charge him ini­tially for Med­i­caid fraud fol­low­ing our ex­ten­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­volv­ing mil­lions of doc­u­ments,” Rut­ledge said in a news re­lease.

Raveen­dran Hutchin­son

Cran­ford

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